Six-year-old Kathrynn Harrison is constantly creating art.
“She’s very caring and conscious of other people’s feelings, so she likes to give her artwork to others for birthdays and holidays,” says Kathrynn’s mother, Stephanie. “Art gives her an outlet for her creativity.”
That’s why Stephanie enrolled Kathrynn in a weeklong animal art camp at Frederick’s Delaplaine Arts Center during the summer. One day, Kathrynn created “beautiful multimedia seahorse artwork,” says Stephanie, who joked that she was soon going to need to create an in-home gallery.
She was grateful that the camp exposed Kathrynn to a variety of art techniques. The seahorse project, for example, included watercolor painting, glued feathers and glittery objects, drawings with markers and sea grass glued into place. She was impressed that one project showcased a diverse mix of media, which made it fun for her daughter to create.
The arts are a priority in the Harrison household. Stephanie originally obtained an art degree from Towson University, but she went back to school to become a nurse. She currently works at Frederick Health Hospital and as a clinical instructor at Frederick County Community College.
“I find I use my art degree every day in the way that I learned how to think. Art and design have a way of helping you see the end result. You learn how to conceptualize the end result before you can tackle a project and problem solve,” says Stephanie.
Despite her busy schedule as a mom of three young children—and a fourth on the way—she believes in making time for the arts at home.
“We definitely enjoy doing projects together, especially on a rainy day,” Stephanie says. “For one project, we made stepping stones that were a memorial to a baby we lost last year, to help everyone express themselves.”
She believes the benefits go well beyond the physical craft projects that can be displayed and enjoyed. And the experts agree.
It’s ‘almost like dreaming’
“There are so many benefits to having kids explore creative fields, whether it’s visual or other forms of the arts,” says Kristen Butler, director of programs at The Delaplaine. “It’s great for social and emotional development. And with the visual arts, sitting down and doodling—just letting your mind go—can be therapy, almost like dreaming.”
Doodling also helps children develop fine motor skills and a sense of exploration.
Butler notes that many people stopped using the term “STEM” to refer to the valued science, technology, engineering and math fields because it left out one key letter that ties them all together—the letter “A.”
Using “STEAM” instead includes “arts” as an essential ingredient. “Exploring creativity is an important part of those fields,” explains Butler. “To solve a math problem, you have to be open to a diversity of answers. In engineering, technology—there’s a lot of creative problem solving.”
In art, like life, there’s rarely one black-and-white answer to any given question or problem.
“Doing art helps you be open to that concept that there’s not always one right answer. There’s not a right answer to doing art,” Butler says. “Art helps you get away from that thinking.”
For example, if you give a classroom of 20 students access to the same art supplies, you’ll end up with 20 completely unique art projects.
“Sometimes in school, we lose that because of the importance of testing as a metric, and sometimes kids get so focused on ‘what’s the right answer?’” says Butler.
Nurture your budding artists
“Usually we think of the arts as something that’s expensive, but I want to emphasize that it can be something that actually costs very little,” advises Butler, who has a 4-year-old daughter.
Space is another key consideration.
“For us, at home, my husband and I created an art station,” she says. “It could be a kitchen counter with a box of art supplies. A dining room table could be a makeshift art table. It’s important to have a place to let your children hang out and explore. We have a bookshelf and table set aside that she can go to it whenever she wants.”
Be sure to stock the art station with age-appropriate supplies, which don’t have to be pricey. Think about packaging from deliveries; simple pencils and crayons; repurposed recycling materials, such as egg cartons, scissors and tape; cardboard boxes and natural materials such as twigs or leaves. The possibilities are endless.
“There are so many things in our homes that can be art supplies—even things that you might otherwise throw away,” Butler says. And she encourages fellow moms to lose the mommy guilt.
“I can get sucked into the Instagram mommies and influencers and feel like I have to have the right supplies, but that’s something we have to let go of. Remember, there’s no right way to do an art project,” Butler advises.
Parents can serve as positive role models by exploring their creativity too.
“There are lots of forms of exercise that are creative—dance, for example, or listening to music, writing or reading,” Butler says. “I’m one of those people who needs a recipe, but letting go of that and seeing what’s in the fridge and putting that together to create a meal could be a creative family activity.”
The good stuff
You can set your child up for a lifelong appreciation of the arts, and healthy habits, by including the arts in your household routine, says Wendy Heiges, program and gallery director at the Adams County Arts Council in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Carving out that time could be the hardest—but most critical—part.
“Incorporating a creative outlet into a daily routine sets the course for success. It teaches and provides a nonconfrontational way to problem solve. It strengthens resilience and coping skills; it nurtures confidence and encourages a ‘thinking outside the box’ approach,” says Heiges.
Individual time to create, and family time to create together, are both important. And she encourages families to explore all the arts—not just the visual arts.
“Movement, writing, drawing, singing, music, exploring or playing with different materials all encourage the state of dreaming which is where the good stuff—creativity, joy, a sense of purpose and well-being—comes from,” says Heiges. “Create a space that’s a go-to for exploration and creativity and enjoy the journey.”
Community Resources for the Arts
Adams County Arts Council
125 S. Washington St.
Carroll County Arts Council
91 W. Main St., Westminster
Frederick Arts Council
11 W. Patrick St., Frederick
The Delaplaine Arts Center
40 S. Carroll St., Frederick
Be sure to check The Delaplaine’s YouTube channel for how-to videos of art projects primarily geared to elementary-age kids.